French experts arrive to investigate blind dolphin deaths

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KARACHI – A team of French Cetacean experts headed by Francois Xavier Pelletier arrived in Sindh to investigate the reasons behind the recent mortalities of the rare Indus blind dolphin in Sukkur region and also to find out the possible threats to these endangered and unique dolphins.
In his initial report, the French experts said after analysing circumstantial evidence that the causes of death of these dolphins were either net entanglement or chemical poisoning. A pertinent report will be issued after the samples taken from the dolphins have been analysed.
Although no fresh death of any Indus blind dolphin has been reported, experts apprehend that a threat was circling over the ‘Indus Dolphin Reserve’, a protected site that stretches to 190 kilometers between Guddu and Sukkur Barrages. The area was declared a protected reserve in 1974.
The French experts including Francois Xavier Pelletier with the help of World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan (WWF – Pakistan) conservationists Muhammad Imran and Liaqat Ali Khokhar and officials of Sindh Wildlife Department conducted autopsy on three dead dolphins to collect samples for poison testing, which is being believed as the major reasons behind the recent mortalities.
The samples were sent to laboratory for final results and Sindh Minister for Wildlife Dr Daya Ram Essrani said that final report was expected by Monday.
In last months, six dolphins have died in River Indus between Guddu and Sukkur barrages.
The habitat of the Indus River Dolphin has been reduced to one fifth of its historical range and degraded primarily due to a shortage of water, uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in farming around the river and discharge of untreated industrial wastewater effluents from industries of Southern Punjab and northern districts of Sindh including milk factories, fertilizer companies in Sukkur into the river.
Besides, the domestic waste and sewage of major cities of both provinces is also dumped into Indus. “Apparently it seems that poison or chemicals that fishermen used to fish, has killed these dolphin, as out of the total six dead dolphins, three had patches on their bodies, which indicate the use of chemicals, but the actual reason would be ascertained after the report is received,” said Essrani.
Yet another threat to the dolphin population is the unsustainable fishing practices which have flourished recently due to the replacement of the contract system of fishing with “fishing card system” in the river Indus. Previously, contractors were held responsible for any illegal fishing in allotted areas and the accountability kept them from indulging in unsustainable fishing practices.
Now, for merely Rs 110, anyone in the area can acquire a fishing card and indulge in the activity without anyone being held accountable in case a violation occurs. The increased number of fishermen in the area has put a tremendous stress on fishing resources. Since dolphin is a mammal and is not consumed, it has become a victim of illegal netting and chemical poisoning that fishermen use to maximize catch.
“I personally enquired of the Fisheries Department and they said 200 cards were issued between Guddu and Sukkur and right after deaths of the dolphin, a team of Sindh fisheries raided a boat in the river near Sukkur and arrested three fishermen with 400 kg of fish catch; we sent the samples of those fish to laboratory to confirm the use of poison,” Essrani said.
The Indus River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor) is a global priority species of freshwater cetaceans. It is an endangered species and is endemic to the Indus River System in Pakistan. The Indus River Dolphin is the second most endangered obligate freshwater dolphin species, falling only after the ‘functionally extinct’ Yangtze River Dolphin.
The demise of the Yangtze River dolphin is a tragic reminder of the dolphin’s sensitivity to anthropogenic (human) activities occurring in and around its habitat, and the need for its formal protection and conservation on a national level.
WWF-Pakistan’s 2001 dolphin survey states that there are only 725 dolphins in the reserve.
The number increased to 1,293, as discovered in a dolphin survey conducted in 2006. WWF – Pakistan is set to conduct a latest dolphin survey in March 2011.